Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gettysburg - Preparations for Attack

Lee's Plan
The commanders of both armies around Gettysburg were up before dawn on the morning of July 2nd. Meade was posting his troops on the hills of south of Gettysburg, preparing to receive the attack he expected. Meanwhile Lee was looking for an opportunity to make that attack. He sent out scouting parties and one, venturing out in the direction of the Union left, reported that he had ridden to Little Round Top and there were no troops in the area. According to this report, there was nothing to stop Lee from moving around the Federal line and hitting them in the flank or even rear. This was just the opportunity he had been looking for, so he began seeing to the preparations for the attack. But in this he did not have the willing cooperation of Longstreet, who would be commanding the assault. Longstreet still wanted to fight a defensive battle. Lee had made it clear it was not going to happen, but his lieutenant was not content to just obey orders. Worse still, Lee's plan was based on faulty information. Somehow the scouting party must have been confused about their location, as Union reports show that there would have been plenty of troops visible in the Little Round Top area at that time.

Sickles examines his lines
The commander on the far Union left, where Lee planned to attack, was Dan Sickles. Sickles was not a military man, but a politician looking to overcome a bad reputation. Sickles was not satisfied with his position on Cemetery Ridge. He was concerned because of some higher ground a little over a half mile in front of him around a peach orchard. He thought that Confederates holding the slight rise would be able to break his line. About noon, without authorization from Meade, he moved his corps forward to cover the higher ground. Writing after the battle, Sickles acknowledged that it was done outside of his orders:
It was not through any misinterpretation of orders. It was either a good line or a bad one, and, whichever it was, I took it on my own responsibility.... I took up that line because it enabled me to hold commanding ground, which, if the enemy had been allowed to take - as they would have taken if I had not occupied it in force - would have rendered our position on the left untenable; and, in my judgment, would have turned the fortunes of the day hopelessly against us. 
 But this move jeprodized the Union line. The new position was nearly twice as long, spreading his troops very thin and making them neglect the truly important position of Little Round Top, leaving it free to be captured by the Confederates. When Meade heard of this move, he was very angry. Without waiting a moment he gave orders that the stituation be corrected. But it was too late. For as he rode up to Sickles position, he discovered that the Confederates were massing for an attack.



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